Two men – one a New England Patriots fan, and one a Pittsburgh Steelers fan – do what men do best: bark, banter and wager … honorably. This time about the AFC Championship game Sunday, January 22, 2017.
Justin LaBarge Producer, Legacy Magazine
Since the dawn of time, man has instinctually sought to protect his domain. Quite simply, those who failed perished. I consider myself a direct descendant of generations of success in this regard. After all, I am living proof. And I am a New England Patriots fan.
There is a ritual between men and this is what it looks like. This behavior is by no means considered normal behavior in society, yet it a common masculine trait. It has meaning. It has honor. And best of all, it has WINNERS!!! And it has losers.
Are you a winner or a loser?
In our land of ritualized aggressions, our contemporary gladiators wearing the laundry of our province provide purposeful belonging and civic pride. We are a culture of sports fandom, hardwired by fight or flight instincts. We are driven to achieve black-and-white polarity and clarity. We need this profound boundary of opposition, to test one’s mettle and achieve greatness. To the victor go the spoils, and to the loser belong shame.
Fred Rai Staff Writer
So I decided a bit of celebration is in order this weekend as I’ve two things to grateful for: my son is over for our bi-weekly visitation and then my Steelers are playing for the AFC Championship.
With a smile on my face and my heart all set for a victory, I plunged myself into undertaking a wager with a man from New England. I suspect he’s a French fellow lost somehow below the 49th. He’s quiet some and very polite and proper, well more so than me at most times and a book smart sort of man. Ah what’s he know about football and wagers, I thought.
Boy was I wrong, that lost Frenchman down in New England lured me in I say! Into a wager I normally wouldn’t enter to the degree that I have.
Laptop on and game being streamed and Justin LaBarge showcasing his cockiness via spitting out every pro Tom Brady stat known to mankind, how am I suppose to respond to this?
I recall saying aloud, “I have to come up with something, I can’t let this guy just talk smack like this.” I know, me thinks some trash talk will help lift my spirits and perhaps make him nervous. And I hope it will trickle down towards his team the pesky New England Patriots and their supermodel hero quarterback Tom Brady who may just choke as he has in the past.
Yes that’s what I will do! I skim through a myriad of images on Google in search of a searing “burn” image that captures the “screw you and your team,” and I find a few. Off they get sent. One by one I slowly send them with care as I plan to entice the Frenchman to respond and lose his cool.
THE VICTORY (Continued)
It’s first down. With 2:55 remaining in the first quarter, All-World Master of Time and Space Tom Brady lines up in shotgun. Pats split out four wide with Edelman and Amendola in the slot, forcing Pittsburgh out of its base defense. The Patriots had used this formation 12 times all SEASON. Today they would spread this defense 13 times in the FIRST HALF.
On this play, both inside receivers get caught up in the underneath coverage. Brady forces the secondary coverage to the right, looking off safety Robert Golden to the outside. As the pass rush applied pressure up the middle, Brady, wheeling back to the left delivers the pigskin on a rope to a wide-open Chris Hogan. Thus began the first-year Patriot career performance, 180-yard two-touchdown game. Today’s weapon of choice in this adaptable offense.
Last week’s hero was Running Back Dion Lewis, who found the end zone three ways: rushing, receiving and kick return. This strategy is a signature for Patriots teams – where do these no-name players come from? Rejects. Reclamation projects. Checkered pasts. Strap on the local laundry, do your job and you can be the next cult hero. And boy, do New Englanders ever LOVE their blue-collar, lunch-pail dirt dogs.
THE DEFEAT (Continued)
In turn LaBarge sends me a picture of his Patriot hat and of him wearing his jersey and a sharpie as he calmly suggests our bet be of the following nature:
If my Pittsburgh Steelers win I have bragging rights, and if his New England Patriots lose, he gets his wish. Oh man this is going to be so easy, so I think to myself.
So I wager with the Frenchman, and I sit and anticipate for the time when his team loses – I shall have two victories in hand, one being the Patriots loss and the other being LaBarge openly displaying his love for the Mighty Steelers and Big Ben.
The wager is sealed via a few texts and I think to myself, “I am so going to enjoy this night!”
As anyone knows, there’s no going back on bets and wagers; they are done deals and a man’s word is at stake as is his honor.
As the game starts and the kickoff ensues I quickly realize I am in for a long night of boring football. Straight from the kickoff I notice his team has got its mojo and mine is still sleeping so to say. One touchdown for him and then a field goal and mine can barely hold onto the ball. What have the football gods gotten me into? Can someone shake these giants of mine awake and remind them I have a wager in hand, and we can’t lose to the Frenchman and his Patriots.
How will I ever face them and face myself and never mind my team should we lose tonight?
Halftime comes and goes, and it doesn’t look good for my men; they seem not to snuff Perhaps the rumors of the flu having taken its toll and the alarm being pulled late at night at their hotel has really taken its effect upon the guys. No matter what, I will sit and cheer them on as I know Big Ben and the guys have turned a game around many times. After all, they are on a 9-game winning streak and that’s commendable on its own.
Play after play I see Pittsburgh unable to move the football very far, and my anxiety is rising and frustration is brewing, as I think to myself “we can’t lose to the Frenchman … after all we are so close to the Super Bowl, and can’t you guys taste it?” I say this aloud to the laptop, almost expecting a response of “Yes, we will win this one for Rai.”
Well … tonight isn’t my night and my team isn’t as mighty as they’ve been all season. It seems like the Patriots are going all the way, as is LaBarge. And in this defeat I oblige my word and uphold my honor as the tired warrior of late night NFL Football.
Perhaps next year will be more kind to me and my men of Steelers Nation. It’s been a long hard drive to the finals, and I hope you’re happy Frenchman, aka Justin LaBarge.
THE VICTORY (Continued)
We’re on to the Super Bowl!
Good guys. Bad guys.
Catholic. Protestant. (If you’re Irish. And boy, are Pats fans Irish.)
A man of his word is a man of his word. And Fred Rai is no doubt a man of his word. His favorite part about our friendly wager is that his son gets to learn, and ultimately share in this long tradition. At least that’s what we want for him.
In making our wager, I felt we invested in our trust in each other. When I gave him a line of bullshit, he kicked it right back. Trusting he would resist and push back felt good. My philosopher-self takes comfort in finding how we agree to disagree. To push against something and finding that resistance between us.
Remarkably, it’s like the sport of football itself.